Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has said that he “screwed up” in leaked internal communications defending the Dave Chapelle special, ahead of Wednesday’s planned employee walk out in protest of the comedy show.
Chappelle’s special The Closer has been facing extreme backlash for politically incorrect jokes about transgenderism.
In the leaked communications with employees, Sarandos said that “distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
In a follow up memo, Sarandos explained that “we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” citing the fact that violence on screen has gone up, while going down in many countries.
“The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others. We are working hard to ensure marginalized communities aren’t defined by a single story. So we have Sex Education, Orange is the New Black, Control Z, Hannah Gadsby and Dave Chappelle all on Netflix. Key to this is increasing diversity on the content team itself,” the memo said.
The memos did not help to tamper the outrage among leftists working at Netflix, however, and a walk out was planned for Wednesday.
In a company Slack channel on Monday, an employee wrote:
“I encourage all [members of] Trans* and allies not to work for Netflix that day. … As we’ve discussed through Slack, email, texts and everything in between, our leadership has shown us that they do not uphold the values for which we are held. … Between the numerous emails and non-answers that have been given, we have been told explicitly that we somehow cannot understand the nuance of certain content. I don’t know about you, but asking for us to show the whole story and not just the pieces that harm trans and [LGBTQ+] people is not an unreasonable ask.
“So, I encourage us all to state clearly that we, as Netflix employees are stunning not simply when we are doing the work that our roles demand of us but also when we challenge the very principles of our company.”
In an interview Tuesday night, Sarandos told The Wall Street Journal that he had botched his response to the disgruntled employees.
“What I should have led with in those emails was humanity,” Sarandos said. “I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.”
Specifically, Sarandos walked back his remarks about entertainment causing real world harm.
“To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world… sometimes quite negative,” he said.
Sarandos did not entirely throw Chappelle under the bus however, adding that the special was consistent with their goal of entertaining people with different tastes.
“We have articulated to our employees that there are going to be things you don’t like… But we are trying to entertain a world with varying tastes and varying sensibilities and various beliefs, and I think this special was consistent with that.”